Can Auto Safety Ads Go Too Far?

In 2007, there were 10.6 million automobile accidents in the U.S., according to the Census Bureau. “Per mile driven, teen drivers ages 16 to 19 are four times more likely than older drivers to crash” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The CDC also states that among teen drivers, those at especially high risk for motor vehicle crashes are:

1. Males: In 2006, the motor vehicle death rate for male drivers and passengers ages 15 to 19 was almost two times that of their female counterparts.

2. Teens driving with teen passengers: The presence of teen passengers increases the crash risk of unsupervised teen drivers. This risk increases with the number of teen passengers.

3. Newly licensed teens: Crash risk is particularly high during the first year that teenagers are eligible to drive.

These are frightening statistics whether you have teenagers at home or not. But do these statistics justify graphic, disturbing, and gory ads and public service announcements (PSA) on TV? You be the judge.

These first three ads are from Volkswagen, and while its Safe Happens campaign wasn’t strictly a PSA, it took on that tone. VW has frequently been on the forefront of progressive, clutter-breaking advertising and these ads were no exception.

This first ad features two friends simply talking as they drive through the suburban streets.

This next one takes the same approach, but this time with a group of teens talking about a movie they have just seen. Interesting when you couple this seemingly innocent car ride with the statistics above regarding teens driving with other teen passengers.

This last ad from VW features two women talking about none other than a graphic commercial where a car accident is featured … irony at its best.

recall the first time I saw these ads on television. They certainly got my attention and also got me to think more about safety, so the campaign clearly did its job. I recall the furor over these ads at the time. People were complaining that they were far too graphic and disturbing.

Since that time, however, the issue of distracted driving has become all that more pressing. Texting has become a major cause of traffic accidents in the U.S. Anyone who drives with regularity has seen someone texting in the next lane or worse, been behind someone that is swerving with their head down, punching away at their phone.

The most recent example of this has been Dr. Frank Ryan, better known as the plastic surgeon who transformed reality television star Heidi Montag into a walking Barbie doll. He drove off the side of a cliff inCalifornia this summer, reportedly while texting and driving. This conjures up some pretty disturbing mental images to be sure, but likely nothing compared to what you will see in this public anti-texting announcement developed in the U.K.

Fair warning, this is very graphic.

Clearly this ad goes to great lengths to make its point, but it has received well over a million views on YouTube. If you felt that VW crossed a line, there will be no question as to your thoughts on this one.

Still, is this the only way to get our attention in this Attention Deficit Disorder society? Can we only break through the clutter of the distractions in our lives and in our media with graphic messages like these?

The Sussex Safer Roads Partnership felt that getting an auto safety related message to people could be done differently.

Here, we get all the emotion and all of the impact that we received from the gorier anti-texting ad before it but without the violence. This ad too has been passed around and viewed well over a million times. Unlike the other ads, however, this one leaves you with a smile instead of a look of shock.

So which is the more persuasive, memorable and impactful? Only the viewer can say for sure but I would submit that from time to time, it is important to remind people of the reality of their decisions, even if that means some graphic visuals. Still, the public can only handle so much of that type of message on an ongoing basis. To that end, the Sussex ad offers a creative and effective alternative. Hopefully, other PSA developers will take note.

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